Amidst isolating times, Blackhearts & Sparrows have fostered a sense of community

Amidst isolating times, Blackhearts & Sparrows have fostered a sense of community

Photo courtesy of Blackhearts & Sparrows
Words by Kate Streader

The sibling owned and run business has continued to make quality wine accessible during a time when people could really use a drink.

In 2006, siblings Paul and Jessica Ghaie opened Blackhearts & Sparrows, a boutique bottle shop focused on offering quality and obscure wine while eschewing the high price tags and pretension that are often associated with upmarket wine stores.

In the near 15 years since, the Ghaies have opened nine more stores across Melbourne, as well as setting up shop in North Hobart and the ACT. Sidestepping the brands you’re likely to find at your local bottle-o, the shelves at Blackhearts & Sparrows are stocked with drops from independent Australian producers, spanning wine, craft beer, ciders and specialised spirits.

Blackhearts & Sparrows has since built a reputation for making high-quality wine accessible courtesy of their extensive offerings, a price range which stretches from around $12 into the triple digits and a team of warm, knowledgable staff dedicated to finding the right drop for you, whatever the occasion.

When COVID-19 began to encroach on Australia, people flocked in masses to their nearest liquor store to stock up before bunkering down. Thankfully, bottle shops were deemed an essential service and were able to continue operating, though Blackhearts & Sparrows Co-Founder Paul Ghaie admits it has still been an anxious time.

“We acted very quickly in early March to change to card only payments, installing perspex security screens, hourly store sanitising and enforcing maximum customer numbers in-store,” he says.

“Early on this was met with some derision and anger, but we wanted to do everything we could to ensure our staff welfare was prioritised, as well as our customers. It has now been accepted as part of the new normal.”

Although many people turn to a good bottle of vino amidst tough times, the COVID-19 restrictions have posed a set of challenges for Blackhearts & Sparrows beyond keeping stores safe and clean.

As the CBD grew barren, they were forced to temporarily close their store at ELLA in Melbourne Central while a lack of foot traffic also led to the decision to close their Prahran Market store on non-market days.

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Life has been a moving target as of late, but it’s our great pleasure to let you all know that with the most recent easing of restrictions, that we’re starting to extend our store hours a smidge.⁠ ⁠ Our updated store hours are below, as well as on our website and on our google listings – we look forward to seeing you in store soon (and if you can’t make it in, our online store is open, here for you, and shipping Australia-wide!).⁠ ⁠ Abbotsford / Braddon / Brunswick / Fitzroy / Fitzroy North / North Hobart / Richmond: Mon – Fri, 11am-8pm | Sat – Sun, 10am-8pm.⁠ ⁠ Brunswick East / Kensington / Windsor: Mon – Sun, 11am-8pm⁠ ⁠ Prahran: Mon & Wed, closed | Tues, Thurs-Sun, 10am-8pm⁠ ⁠ Melbourne Central: Temporarily closed until further notice (but do stay tuned!.⁠ ⁠ #blackheartswine #blackheartsspirits #blackheartsbeers #tradinghours #updatedtradinghours

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For the locations that were able to continue operating, opening hours were reduced to allow time for extra cleaning, restocking the shelves and to give the staff a well-deserved break.

“We were determined to remain open as much as safely possible so we could ensure all of our staff were kept in work. It was a highly anxious time for everyone, but we pulled through,” says Ghaie.

Embracing the ‘new normal’ has forced the team at Blackhearts & Sparrows to adapt, particularly in regards to their digital offerings. With customers increasingly staying at home, they introduced same-day delivery within selected areas of Melbourne metro and ramped up their operations to meet the demand of online orders.

“It forced us to fast track our digital offering and that has been quite busy. It has also forced us to re-think and streamline some of our operational procedures,” says Ghaie.

Although the initial shockwave of coronavirus and the necessary changes Paul and Jess implemented across their stores led to some untoward behaviour from a handful of customers, which they addressed in an open letter asking people to be kind and respectful, the overall attitude from the community has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Aside from wanting to remain open for our staff, we recognised that each of our stores are an intrinsic part of their neighbourhood and a real community hub,” explains Ghaie.

“It’s been a privilege to be able to provide these spaces where our customers have been able to have a bit of respite from the doom and gloom, and in turn, their support has allowed us to remain open,” he adds.

Not only have the unfavourable circumstances this year has brought cemented Blackhearts & Sparrows’ role as an independent business which contributes to the heart and fabric of its local community, but these trying times have allowed the team behind the perspex barriers to find a sense of family.

“The best thing has been the sense of care and camaraderie that has been displayed across the whole group,” says Ghaie. “There has been a real sense of looking out for one another. We’re a pretty close bunch, but I feel the bond is stronger than ever at the moment.”

Visit the Blackhearts & Sparrows website to find your nearest store or order online. 

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